Q. I used to suffer from painful raw cracks in the corners of my mouth. My dentist suggested I use an inexpensive over-the-counter anti-fungus cream (such as athlete’s foot cream). Within a week the cracks healed, and I haven’t been bothered since.
A. Cracks in the corner of the mouth are called angular cheilitis. Other names include perleche, cheilosis and angular stomatitis. The cause for these sore, irritated fissures remains somewhat mysterious. Some attribute the cracks to a fungal infection, which would explain your success with an anti-fungal cream. The same ingredient found in athlete’s foot remedies is often used for other topical fungal infections.
Other organisms that have been blamed for the inflammation and cracked corners of the mouth include Staph aureus and B-hemolytic strep. Antibiotics can sometimes help if the cause is a bacterial infection.
Can Celiac Disease Cause Cracked Corners of the Mouth?
Nutritional shortfalls such as iron or zinc deficiency or an inadequacy of B vitamins might also contribute to the cracks in the corners of your mouth. Your doctor could test to see if you are low on any of these nutrients.
One reason that people develop certain nutritional deficiencies is celiac disease. When people who are intolerant to gluten (in wheat, barley and rye) eat bread, pizza, pretzels, pancakes, donuts or similar foods, the small intestines are profoundly affected. That means that they cannot adequately absorb nutrients. One reader shared this story:
“Several decades ago I had a persistent problem with cracked corners of the mouth. My dentist prescribed a very expensive topical ointment that temporarily relieved the condition.
“When the angular cheilitis was brought to my primary doctor’s attention, he said it was caused by a vitamin B deficiency and prescribed prenatal vitamins for me. This resolved the problem.
I was still puzzled, however. When I asked my doctor how I could have a vitamin deficiency even though I ate a well-rounded diet and loved fruits and vegetables, he said that some of us do not absorb nutrients as well as others.
“It turns out that he was right but did not go nearly far enough in trying to uncover the root cause. (I also had slight anemia and some other bothersome chronic problems that were related to nutritional deficits.)
“Twenty years later, I was living in France and being treated for a kidney stone. My French doctors, just by chance, found that I had celiac sprue. Changing my diet by eliminating gluten almost immediately cleared up the myriad problems I had been wrestling with for so many years. My American doctors had been treating me for celiac symptoms for about three decades without ever looking for the cause.
“When I returned to the U.S. in 2000, I asked my American doctor to verify the French diagnosis. His response was puzzlement at the name ‘celiac sprue’ as if I had mentioned some rare exotic disease. He also said he did not know not know how to test for it!”
European Doctors Have Been Ahead of Their U.S. Counterparts
Health professionals abroad have been far more aware of celiac disease than their U.S. counterparts. Physicians in the America were taught that celiac sprue (the old name for this condition) was a really rare condition that often affected children and was best treated with a bland diet. There was a mistaken belief that kids might grow out of it as they got older.
Fortunately, most U.S. physicians now know what celiac disease is and how to test for it. Most U.S. health professionals refer to the destruction of the hair-like structures of the intestinal lining (villi) as celiac disease rather than celiac sprue. These intestinal villi are essential for absorbing a variety of nutrients, so it is not surprising that celiac patients will develop anemia and various other vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Testing for Celiac Disease
We suggest that anyone with a history of cracked corners of the mouth be tested for celiac disease. It is a simple blood test and is a good first step. Ask your doctor about the tTG-IgA test (Tissue Transglutaminase Antibody test). Another test that can be helpful is the EMA IgA test (Endomysial Antibody test).
Learn more about celiac disease, symptoms to be alert for, and other key information by visiting this link:
Home Remedies for Cracked Corners of the Mouth (Angular Cheilitis):
Readers have shared success stories about treating angular cheilitis, perleche, chalices, angular stomatitis or whatever you want to call this painful condition. Here are some stories:
Meredith in Brooklyn:
“Vodka! Put vodka on it with a cotton swab. Let it sit for a few minutes. Do this about a dozen times a day and it will be gone. It takes about a week or so.”
Ali in Arizona:
“I have found that if I take L-lysine every day I do not get cracks in the corners of my mouth. It works for cankers also. The relief comes almost always overnight.”
Liz in the Midwest:
“Get California Baby Calendula cream from the baby section at Target and a few other retailers. As long as I keep this stuff on I am fine. It cures the cracks and helps with the itching better then nystatin and curad silver. It’s a lot safer to use and I smear it on my lips without worry. The root of this is a Candida overgrowth in your whole body. One day maybe this will be recognized by the medical community.”
E.M. shared this:
“I started getting angular cheilitis because of a long-wear lipstick that dried out the side of my lip.
“I read online that coconut oil can help so I applied it religiously for 3 days and saw MAJOR improvement. I 100% recommend coconut oil!”
V.T. in Bangalore:
“I used clotrimazole cream. It is instant relief. And only for external use at the corner of the lips.”
By the way, clotrimazole (Lotrimin) is an OTC antifungal cream available in the U.S. for a variety of fungal infections.
Barbie in N.J.:
“Listerine applied with a cotton ball helped my husband after only 3-4 applications.”
Robert in Fort Worth:
“As I became an adult I began getting cracks on the corners of my mouth but ONLY during the colder months, I tried a few things but nothing worked; however taking a good multivitamin or in my specific case Vitamin B cleared it up.”
These are just a few of the many remedies we have collected for dealing with angular cheilitis. Please share your own experience below in the comment section and rate this article at the top by voting.